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India vs South Africa test series: Counting the gains

India beat South Africa 3-0 to reaffirm their home dominance. South Africa was at the receiving end throughout the series, as they just could not come up with any clear-cut plan to challenge the Indians. It was unclear, whether they learned anyth...

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Updated: Oct 23, 2019, 10.42 AM IST
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Kohli---PTI
Indian captain Virat Kohli and team players celebrate after winning the Test series against South Africa at JSCA Stadium, in Ranchi, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019.
By Anand Basu

It is often said in sport that defeat is the best teacher. When you’re winning, you-’re just happy winning, but when you lose, you are forced to look inward to try and change things around, or, at least to arrest the slide. But, there is defeat and there is one-sided pummelling, which is what South Africa were at the receiving end of in the three Tests they played in India. It is unclear whether they actually learned anything in the process, but the series shone light on some massive gains for India.

ASHWIN, THE ALL-WEATHER SPINNER
Out in the cold in white-ball cricket and left out from the Test side during India’s tour of West Indies, there was a hunger in Ravichandran Ashwin that was visible. Not because he was making a comeback, but because Ashwin the off-spinner is naturally hungry. He wants to play cricket all the time — to the extent that he gets involved in tennis-ball pick-up matches in Chennai — and the manner in which he bowled, on good surfaces, even fairly early in a Test match, showed just why the team management should think twice about dropping him, even overseas.

A quality spinner has many tools to work with, turn, drift, flight, natural variation, but it is pressure that brings mistakes from the batsman. Ashwin has the native intelligence to be a step ahead of a batsman, set him up and then deploy the delivery that will draw the error. This is something to be cherished and nurtured, not ignored just because the conditions may not favour off spin bowling.

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ROHIT, THE RED-BALL OPENER
When you watch Rohit Sharma bat in One-Day Internationals, especially when the ball is doing a bit early on, as in England at the World Cup, there is a distinct Test-match feel to proceedings. He will play and miss, he will leave, he will stay at the crease and when things drift towards the favour of batsman he will cash in. Why he had not been able to replicate this in Test cricket was an eternal mystery. The joke was that if you let Rohit bat in a Test match in his blue kit he would be just fine. But it looks like there was no need to go that far. Just putting a name and number on the back of the jersey did the job. With his mind sorted, and having returned to his roots — after all he learnt to bat facing the red ball — India have a Test opener who is going to be in harness for some time to come. Of course he will be tested overseas, but then again, who isn’t?

RAHANE, THE RESCUE DIVER
Ajinkya Rahane has forever been an oddity as a batsman in that he built his portfolio scoring hundreds overseas and then struggled to replicate that run glut in home conditions. Wellington, London, Melbourne and Colombo were conquered before Rahane had his first century at home. Just what is it about him that ensures he saves his best for when the team is in trouble? It’s not as though he doesn’t want to score runs when the going is good. A clue may be in the manner in which he begins each innings. A nervous starter at the best of times, Rahane is forced to put team before self when the odds are stacked against him — as they were at 39 for 3 in Ranchi — and subconsciously this flicks a switch. And once he has seen through that early phase, his inner Buddha kicks in and the runs come thick, if not always fast. He’s another player who the team should think very hard about before dropping, at all times.

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SHAMI, THE SUBCONTINENTAL SLAYER
Mohammad Shami was a fast bowler, not long ago, who could not make the team’s minimum standards in terms of the YoYo test. And here he was, steaming in, with the highest intensity, over after over, aside from early in the series when he was still struggling to warm up and overcome a hip niggle.

Once he hit his straps, Shami was a master of the conditions. Bowling the perfect natural length, and attacking the stumps with the fierce focus of a predator stalking its prey, Shami revelled in presenting an upright seam and letting the nip backer do its work. Fast bowlers are often referred to as opening bowlers, but in Shami, India have a closer.

SELECTORS, THEY’RE WATCHING YOU
One of the heartwarming lessons from this series is that the selectors are watching domestic cricket as closely as ever. Mayank Agarwal’s return to the team and his bucking the law of averages with a timely double-century was the first proof that it’s never too late to break into the Indian team.

And when Kuldeep Yadav’s sore shoulder allowed destiny’s child Shahbaz Nadeem a debut in Ranchi it was just reward for someone who has toiled in first class cricket for 15 years, having made his debut before any of the others in the Indian team. Nadeem, a more complete and classical left-arm spinner than Jadeja, gave excellent account of himself, and whether he ever plays again or not, he will always be an India cricketer.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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